Master Allusionist: With a Twinkle in His Eye, C.S. Lewis Disguised Profound Christian Mysteries in Deceptively Simple Works of Fiction

By Cahill, James P. | U.S. Catholic, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Master Allusionist: With a Twinkle in His Eye, C.S. Lewis Disguised Profound Christian Mysteries in Deceptively Simple Works of Fiction


Cahill, James P., U.S. Catholic


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"That's Jesus, Mama!" shouted my cousin's exuberant daughter, Claire. Her mother was reading to her not from the gospels, but from the climactic scene of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where a heroic lion lays down his life--allowing himself to be stabbed to death on a great stone table by the book's villain--in order to save the life of a boy who has betrayed him. At the tender age of 4, Claire thus discovered the significance of the greatest lion of Western literature, C. S. Lewis' Aslan.

Although Lewis once wrote that he recognized a serious flaw in himself because he did not enjoy the company of small children, he has no doubt been forgiven for this flaw. Children have enjoyed the company of Mr. Lewis ever since The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950, followed by the other stories of Narnia. The reason for this sustained love is that Lewis transformed the most profound Christian mysteries into fantastic stories which have stirred the imaginations of children like Claire for decades.

Lewis is an author that you can grow up with. I first read The Chronicles of Narnia as a young child, unaided by the piercing theological insights of my young cousin. Nevertheless, as I came to know the gospels a bit better I realized that Lewis had been teaching them to me all along in these stories-though by this time I had moved far enough out of childhood that, had I entered the wardrobe leading to Narnia, I would have found only the wooden wall at its back.

As an adolescent I started looking to another deep, dark place for inspiration. Growing up in Chicago, it was impossible to experience the night sky in its full glory. Nonetheless I stood in awe of the changing moon, circling stars, and drifting planets. Like other children brought up on a steady diet of Star Wars, I was fascinated by the possibility of life in a world beyond our own. Did Vulcans require their own version of Jesus, like us in all things but pointy ears? Did Christ come to Krypton?

I didn't know at the time that Lewis had already explored my seemingly childish question in his own space trilogy. In Perelandra, the aptly named Dr. Ransom travels to the planet Venus, where he attempts to save the inhabitants of this Eden-like planet from their own fall from grace and the clutches of the demonic Professor Weston.

Born in Belfast in 1898 (he always saw himself as Irish), Clive Staples Lewis taught at Oxford and Cambridge in medieval and renaissance English. He belonged to the informal literary society known as the Inklings, which included The Lord of the Rings author J. R. R. Tolkien. Though many know him only through his fiction, Lewis also wrote poems, essays, and works of Christian apologetics.

"Christianity, if false, is of no importance," he wrote, "and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important. …

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